Autocomplete Presents the Best Version of You

It is interesting to see how individuals continue to modify their behaviors to fit the abilities of technology…as opposed to tech modifying to meet the needs of people.

In eight years, we’ve gone from Damn You Autocorrect to treating the strip of three predicted words as a sort of wacky but charming oracle. But when we try to practice divination by algorithm, we’re doing something more than killing a few minutes—we’re exploring the limits of what our devices can and cannot do.

Predictive auto text first popped up as we were studying online reading comprehension in schools around Connecticut. Since that point, we’ve been adapting ever since.

…the goal of text prediction must be to anticipate what the user might want the machine to think they might want to type. For mundane topics, these two goals might seem identical, but their difference shows up as soon as a hint of controversy enters the picture. Predictive text needs to project an aspirational version of a user’s thoughts, a version that avoids subjects like sex and death even though these might be the most important topics to human existence—quite literally the way we enter and leave the world.

The predictive text meme is comforting in a social media world that often leaps from one dismal news cycle to the next. The customizations make us feel seen. The random quirks give our pattern-seeking brains delightful connections. The parts that don’t make sense reassure us of human superiority—the machines can’t be taking over yet if they can’t even write me a decent horoscope! And the topic boundaries prevent the meme from reminding us of our human frailty. The result is a version of ourselves through the verbal equivalent of an Instagram filter, eminently shareable on social media.


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